Death of a Great Woman 2012
(Norfolk Virginia, USA)
My mother, my soulmate. I know that seems weird to say. We were carbon copies of each other, pictures of her at my age you cannot tell the difference except for the age and quality of the photos. She never wanted to be a mother because she wasn’t sure she could be a good one after her mother died when she was 6 years old in 1955 and she was raised in a Catholic boarding school in rural N.C. But, 6 years after marrying my father, who had two children from a previous marriage, she decided she wanted a child of her own. At age 36 she gave birth to me, her only biological child. She cherished me and probably spoiled me more than I realize. She was a strong woman. Left her childhood farm with nothing but a suitcase and a basic knowledge of Lab Technology from High school. She put herself through college and left her first husband after he was unfaithful to her. He stood up for the women’s liberation movement by burning her braw in college and participated in sit-in’s to protest Vietnam. She was a free spirit who stood up for her beliefs and was always open minded and caring for those around her. She went out of her way to help people and make them feel special. She was beautiful, a redhead with pale skin. She was graceful and loved a glass of wine with good company. She taught me to be realistic and honor my feelings. I cannot say enough praises. Don’t get me wrong, when I was going through puberty she was going through menopause; that was a difficult time in our household. Teenage years always are.
In December 2007 my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at age 58. She told me at Christmas time when I brought my now husband home to celebrate the holidays. It was hard to imagine my mother, my hero, to be sick. She assured me that things were okay, that the disease could take years to progress and that nothing would change. However, she progressed much more quickly than the disease is supposed to progress. The doctors were worried about that. They did more tests in 2010 after her condition worsened. She was no longer able to eat solid foods, she was falling, and her speech was deteriorating. She was diagnosed with Muscular System Atrophy; a parkinsonian-like disease that is only found if Parkinson’s symptoms progressed too quickly. It can only be diagnosed after death and an autopsy, but, it is clear what it is before that. She waited till after my wedding in July 2010 to tell me that her prognosis was not good. With MSA one dies between 6 and 10 years of onset of symptoms. Her symptoms started 3 years before diagnosis, she didn’t have much time. Death was usually caused by suffocation on ones saliva or food. TERRIBLE! She worried about getting pneumonia and dying because she might not be able to clear her through of saliva. But, she was hopeful. She continued to go to physical therapy, speech therapy, and swallow therapy to put off complications. I went home often to visit her, called home all the time. I was in denial that things were worsening.
In the summer of 2011 my husband and I found out we were pregnant! My mother was going to be a grandmother, something I always wanted to give her was a grandchild. She seemed to have new purpose, she loved having a project. She and I spoke often on skype, she typed I spoke to her. In Jan 2012 she had a heart to heart with me. She was going to start hospice care in the spring, she wasn’t doing so well. She was losing too much weight because she couldn’t get enough calories in. She could barely walk, could barely drink her nutrition smoothies, couldn’t talk, and needed help with everything else. Though she didn’t slow down if she couldn’help it. My father retired to take care of her. She told me that she would always love me, more than all the stars in the sky (something we told each other since I was a child). I cried, she cried. I felt like this was not good. I was 5 months pregnant and I wanted her to be around for my child (I didn’t know the gender till birth). My mother had a feeding tube put in in Feb 2012 to help build her strength. This was supposed to be a great thing to bring her back a bit. It was supposed to prolong her life and help her. We were excited that she would be able to be more free and healthier. Also, it would put less stress on my almost burnt out father.
That weekend after her tube was put in something told me to go down to Norfolk to visit. So, my husband and I went down and visited the weekend. My best-friend and nurse came to help out with the tube and teach us how to work it. My baby was kicking then, she got to feel it kick. Some family friends/surrogate mothers and my best friend planned my baby shower too, it was great. My dad, who was worrying about the tube felt better because of my best friend helping. My mother was in good spirits with the tube, even though she hated having it. She took everything in stride. We relaxed and had a good weekend. At the end my mother had a slight fever and was sleepy. Scott and I hugged her, I said I love you, she said I love you back and we went back home.
Two days later, the day after Valentine’s day I got a call from my dad at 7 am saying that he was in the ICU with my mom, she had pneumonia. He assured me that she was okay, she was awake and using her computer to type and speak to friends who were there. I spoke to her on skype, via ipad and had a good conversation. I called her later that night and spoke to her via skype again. I checked in and told her I loved her and that I’d call her the next day. The next day she was still awake, but, had a tube down her throat to help her breathe, to help her fight off the pneumonia. She needed a little extra help and was okay with it if it wasn’t keeping her alive, she had a DNR. I spoke to her even though she couldn’t speak back. I told her I loved her and that I would come down that weekend to see her. My dad was still assuring me she would be okay, this was temporary. The next day at 3:30 pm (Friday), my dad called and stated that she had been unresponsive since 7 am that morning. I told him I was on my way. My husband and I drove down to see her, the whole time I cried because I just knew this was it. My dad was sugarcoating it to keep me okay, though I knew better. I called my family and told them that they need to come too, if they wanted to see her. When I got to the hospital I was told she had pneumonia and MRSA, probably from the day she had the tube inserted the week before. Her immune system was weak and contracted it while in the hospital for the procedure.
That was a horrible few days. I was 6 months pregnant, had bronchitis (though I refused to go from her side to get meds till I was forced to go by my dad and husband). She was unconscious, only opened her eyes when shifted by the nurses, and the look in her eyes during that was of pure hell and pain. The doctor said she was not supposed to be unconscious, no one knew why. No meds she was on should have done that. On that Saturday night my dad and I were the only ones left in the room and the doctor came in. We decided that the next day we would take the tube out and perform Last Rites. My mother opened her eyes, though the doctor said it was just a response. I asked her to life her arm if she was there, she did. I asked her to blink if she knew who I was, she did. I asked her if she wanted us to stop trying to save and respect her wishes, she blinked and lifted her arm. So, the next day with family and friends we took out the tube, and did Last Rites with their priest. It was the worst thing ever. Though, she hung on for another day and a half. That Monday night I went to the doctor to get meds for my illness, while I was gone she died. My husband and I rushed back to the hospital to see her. She was perfectly still; my dad and half-sister were there. I just held her hand, cried, and sat with her for an hour in silence. She hadn’t looked that at peace in years. When we all left he hospital that night it was surreal. Like leaving a hard game and walking back to the car, defeated. I began coughing so hard I threw up in the parking long. When we got home my dad started cleaning and fixing things, it was 1 am. I stayed up with him while my sister and husband went to bed. The next week was a blur; Family from all over came down. She died on her mother’s birthday, the one who died when she was 6. The funeral was on the anniversary of her death; strange coincidence. I felt numb the whole week. We buried her ashes and the ashes of my best friend’s father on Easter Monday. The two families mourning together. We are all best friends and dealing with the losses together. Today is 6 months since her death; 9 months since the death of my best friend’s father. I think about my mother daily, cry daily. I miss her. I had my daughter in May. She told me I would be having a girl. My daughter looks like our side of the family, I think she’ll look like my mother and me. I whispered the name I picked out if I had a girl to my mother before she passed, she was the only one we told before the birth.
My heart is broken. I feel so lost without knowing my mother is here. I wanted to share so much with her. I now respect her and love her even more, now that I am a mother. I was hoping I’d be at peace knowing she was no longer suffering. I just feel so empty. I’ve change so much since she died. Part of me died with her.